How Struggling Ariad Used a Safety Problem to Quietly Raise Cancer Drug Price

How Struggling Ariad Used a Safety Problem to Quietly Raise Cancer Drug Price October 7, 2016
By Alex Keown, Breaking News Staff

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. – Since Ariad Pharmaceuticals launched its chronic myeloid leukemia drug, Iclusig, in 2012, the price has increased from approximately $10,000 per month to more than $16,500 per month—a 73 percent increase in price.

In a recent interview with The Street’s Adam Feuerstein, the company said the price increases were justified as the drug "addresses an area of high unmet medical need in an ultra-orphan patient population of around 1,000-2,000 patients per year,” according to The Street’s report. However, those price increases came as the company was forced limit the patient population that could use it as a second-line defense against CML. In 2013, the company halted marketing it after the FDA warned about dangerous side effects. The FDA allowed the drug back on the market by the end of the year, but at that time it included new cardiovascular warnings and its use was restricted to a smaller class of patients as a second-line treatment.

It was here the price increases began. Initially Feuerstein said Ariad reduced the number of pills per bottle for each patient —which means patients had to refill the prescription more often, resulting in a de facto price increase. Then, the price increases for the smaller pill amounts began, steadily increasing to the current $16,500 cost. The drug now has a higher price tag than other CML drugs, such as Tasigna and Sprycel, Feuerstein said.

Ariad is seeking to expand the use of Iclusig. Iclusig is involved in several clinical trials, including the OPTIC-2L trial, a Phase III study in patients with chronic-phase chronic myeloid leukemia (CP-CML) who did not respond to imatinib. It is also currently enrolling patients in the OPTIC trial of Iclusig to evaluate three different doses of the drug in patients with refractory CP-CML.

The price of drugs has become a hot topic this election cycle, with Congress and consumers taking a hard look at drug companies charging high dollar amounts for drugs. Companies such as Valeant , Pfizer and Gilead Sciences have been under scrutiny for their pricing. Recently Mylan faced the withering gaze of consumers and government officials over the high price that company charges for the Epi-Pen Auto Injector.

While Ariad has increased the price of its leukemia drug, the company has faced other troubles as well. In March, the company slashed 25 percent of its workforce as part of a strategic review aimed at increasing patient and shareholder value.

The newer streamlined company though was able to report some positive news that may drive future revenues for the company. In April, the company said it was moving its lung cancer drug brigatinib, an investigational anaplastic lymphoma kinase (ALK) inhibitor, into Phase III trials. The head-to-head study will directly test brigatinib against Pfizer’s lung cancer drug, crizotinib, which was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2011. Brigatinib received Breakthrough Therapy designation from the U.S. FDA in October 2014.

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